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Game 7: The coin is still turning in the air

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Heads or Tails?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs
The modern Maple Leafs began the day Morgan Rielly was drafted.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Before this playoff series began, I posted about the probabilities of the Leafs winning it, and the guys with the numbers said it was close to 50-50.

A coin flip.

The coin has been spinning for two weeks, and tonight it’s going to fall. Are you ready? No? Let’s forget that for a bit, then, and go back in time.

Do you remember this:

“If you think there’s no pain coming, there’s pain coming,” said Babcock, who believes Toronto’s original offer of a 10-year deal was too long. “I didn’t come here to make the playoffs; I came here to be involved in a Cup process.”

He was talking process even then. That famous statement came in the press conference when Mike Babcock was hired. And maybe you thought he meant the tank roster:

Leafs players at 5on5 on the last game of the tank season, a crucial 5-1 loss to New Jersy.

Maybe you thought he meant the nail-biter run to the last playoff position in 2017, and the loss to the Washington Capitals in six games. All that overtime, it felt like it was close, but deep down, did you know that was an illusion? Was that the pain? All that actually good stuff was just so much candy floss and wishful thinking.

Maybe you thought he meant game seven last year, when we never thought we’d get that far, and it seemed for that one brief moment like the game would go our way. And when we got over that defeat, things were supposed to look up. That’s how it works right? Progress is a straight line. Ask the Lightning and the Flames, if you want that fantasy busted.

Babcock didn’t mean any of that, or maybe he did, because the sheer volume of losing that goes into winning is old news to him. But for us, for it to really hurt when the Leafs lose, you have to first believe they can win. Hope is where the pain comes from. Hope is dangerous. And now we’re back in the present again with the coin turning in the air, the coin that means, just by spinning, that the Leafs can win this game.

Believe it, and your heart might get broken.

Fulemin said this today:

Luck is worth a hell of a lot more than process now. The fate of either team is as likely to be determined by a puck bouncing off someone’s ass as anything else.

One game seven is the ultimate small sample, so random chance (the coin turning and turning) has a bigger effect. I don’t think it’s worth a thing though. You can’t count on luck. You can only count on all the people who make up the team and the process that led to this moment. It’s impossible to grasp this today, but the process hasn’t delivered us all here for an ending to the story sometime tonight. This game seven is just one more game in the long, long run of games that will lead from that day in 2015 into the future, whatever that future is. There absolutely is an afterwards.

We can’t go there. We can’t even know now how the coin will fall. And that’s very frightening too. The Norse didn’t like that truth, that they would go into battle and not know who would live or die, so they invented a story to explain it. It’s not a tale of evil men in striped shirts like some of our great sagas today, it’s a story about women who weave the fates of men with magic and who choose who lives and who dies.

But those Norse, the smart ones — I’m picturing one a little nerdy and with not the greatest vision, not a blond, bearded warrior, but a thinker — he suggested ever so gently to the rest of them that even if they believed the Valkyries would decide their fate, they still needed to work hard every day on the process of being a badass inspiration for a Netflix show.

The process is not meant to deliver you to your fate on the date of the big battle (that’s for TV shows). It’s meant to be the train you never get off. Ever. All of that is to say there won’t be any big changes, no sudden call-ups or line juggling, there is no cavalry coming over the hill to save us. This is the team, for good and ill, that the process has created.

We can pick at the edges of this team, nervous, like we’re plucking at the hem of a sweater until it unravels. Pick out the stitches one at a time, and travel back in time again.

What if the Jake Muzzin trade had fallen through? That would be very, very bad.

What if the trade had been for the ever elusive right-handed stud defender? Could Kyle Dubas have done better?

What if the Leafs had never traded for Brian Boyle? Tampa took Alexander Volkov with the pick, so it wouldn’t affect our fate today any.

What if the Leafs had taken Ryan Poehling instead of Timothy Liljegren in 2017? Was that goalfest of his against the Leafs just a fluke, or would he be on the team right now playing at centre?

What if the Leafs had drafted Alex DeBrincat in 2016?

What if they’d taken Noah Hanifin instead of Mitch Marner?

What if they’d taken Shea Theodore instead of Frederik Gauthier? Or, Emile Poirier who was taken right after Gauthier.

Keep going back, and you know what you’ll find: years of good players traded away and bad drafting. You can reknit the sweater in a thousand different ways, most of them not any better, so what’s the point of looking back? The process, which can be summed as: Work hard to get better every day in every way, isn’t perfect, and progress isn’t a straight line. But, it’s too late now to make the team anything other than what it is.

Heads or Tails? Win or lose? Bet on the answer.

There’s only one currency allowed, though. You have to risk your heart being broken. I’m putting everything on Blue and White. How about you?